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Gates Targets Schools: Bill Gates and Melinda French Gates plan to broaden their commitment to K-12 education, after having recently combined their two philanthropies into the nation's wealthiest foundation.

Last month, Mr. Gates, the chairman and chief executive officer of the Microsoft Corp., announced the consolidation of the philanthropies to create the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Based in Seattle, the new foundation has assets of more than $17.1 billion, said Trevor Neilson, a foundation spokesman. The foundation eclipsed the Indianapolis, Ind.-based Lilly Endowment Inc., which was previously the nation's richest philanthropy with assets of $15.7 billion at the end of fiscal year 1998.

The new foundation will focus on teacher training and professional development, along with crafting plans for educational improvement in the Pacific Northwest which can be duplicated across the country, said Tom Vander Ark, the executive director of the Gates Education Initiative.

According to a federal law mandating that private foundations spend a minimum of 5 percent of their assets each year to keep their tax-exempt status, the new Gates Foundation will have to give away $2.3 million each day.

"We are first going to focus on the state of Washington, and we hope to scale it up nationally," Mr. Vander Ark said. "We've conducted 200 interviews with educators and business leaders around the nation and found that leadership development is key, that development for teachers is critical."

In the past, Mr. and Mrs. Gates have focused their education philanthropy on technology and training teachers and students in how to use it. The now-defunct Gates Learning Foundation was started in 1997 as the Gates Library Foundation in an effort to bridge the so-called digital divide between rich and poor communities.

The foundation provided computers and Internet access to libraries serving low-income communities. It awarded more than $22 million to 1,300 libraries in 28 states during 1998 and provided teachers and other school staff members with computer training.

Separately, the William H. Gates Foundation--consolidated with the Gates Learning Foundation into the new philanthropy--provided support for education, global health, and community projects in the Pacific Northwest. The foundation gave $133 million to organizations concerned with global health, $122 million to education, $42 million to community projects, and $60 million to special projects last year.

--Julie Blair [email protected]

Vol. 19, Issue 2, Page 12

Published in Print: September 15, 1999, as Philanthropy

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